February 14, 2024 – Ash Wednesday

Category: Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103:8-14; 

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

The Rev. Candice B. Frazer

I know today is the start of Lent, but I already have a confession to make. It is a “dirty” little secret that I carry on my heart. One of those hidden pleasures that you know you shouldn’t really take part in and you feel a little guilty when you do but you just can’t help yourself. I am a royal watcher. 

I know that doesn’t sound like much. I follow the royal family on Instagram and see all the good they are doing in the world which sounds innocent enough—but secretly I am following Princess Catherine’s fashion journey. I love everything about her style—coat dresses, shoes, hair, hats even the way she carries herself in the public eye whether at a formal gala or hanging out with her kids. I am a fanatic and as such it has led me down some rather sordid paths. For instance, I get a daily dose of royal gossip in my inbox from Quora. 

Quora is a social platform where you can ask and answer questions about lots of different subjects—but mostly celebrity gossip—and in my case, royal gossip. Though I first started following it as another source of daily Catherine geeking out, over the last couple of years it has trended toward the trashing of Meghan and Harry. I am pretty good about not following those rabbit trails and only clicking on Kate the fashionista, but occasionally I will stray. I always feel a little icky about it though. Just by clicking on the bait, I have encouraged the celebrity gossip that can destroy others and nurtures my own judgmental thinking—two things that are not healthy for me or the world. I’m not totally sure why I do it. It has something to do with the headlines, I’m sure. A big part of me wants for Meghan and Harry to reconcile with the royal family in order to live out my own fantasy of being a tiara-wearing-American-princess. But the reality is that even if you’re royal, life is not a fantasy.

Lent reminds us that life is not a fantasy. Life is a mundane existence filled with sorrows and joys. It is the ebb and flow of a life that has greater depth and perspective than a life of ease or fantasy. Life is complicated—emotions and beliefs and desires and wants all get wrapped up with our fears and frustrations. Life isn’t an easy path, and I don’t think it is supposed to be—no matter what your social media feed tries to imply. Lent is a reminder of that and an invitation to embrace the doubt and darkness that infiltrates our lives.

Paul speaks to the complexity of life when he lists all the impossibilities he and his fellow evangelists have had to endure: “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, [and] hunger.” Though you may not resonate with each of these concerns, you probably resonate with at least a few. And even though Paul and his companions have known the harsh treatment of the world and may even have brought upon themselves some of that suffering, they entreat the followers of Christ to be reconciled to God. That is the prayer our collect invites us too today,

The collect for Ash Wednesday, composed by Cranmer, reminds us that in lamenting of our sins and acknowledging our wrethchedness within he context of the promise of God’s forgiveness, we obtain God’s mercy and the perfect remission of our sins and forgiveness. Don’t be fooled—we may receive that remission of sins, but it is through our repentance AND God’s mercy that it is achieved. Cranmer’s collect replaces the language of an earlier collect that emphasized fasting as the path toward remission of sins.  Fasting is an action that we might make in our desire to repent. A spiritual practice designed to draw us closer to God. It is not, however, the practice itself that produces such remission. 

God is the only one who can forgive us. And that forgiveness was already granted long ago on Calvary by Jesus’ actions on a cross. The work we do as penitent Christians is designed to bring God back into focus in our lives. In lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, we are offering up contrite hearts to God to accept his saving work of transformative forgiveness. Furthermore, God has created everything and hates nothing that he has made. All that we create is in some form an acknowledgment of him. If we discover that there is some ugliness in our life that causes us to sin, it is because we have broken the trust of God and twisted his goodness into our vulgarities.

Lent is a time to embrace the vulgarity of life—whatever vulgarity you might need to transform. My relationship with the royal family might seem a bit flippant, but it is in the vulgarity of gossip and judgment that draws me into my own darkness and doubts. I can’t tell you what vice may plague you, but I might suggest that it is what lies at the root of that vice that is the true cause of your wretchedness. In giving up our vices or even extolling our virtues, we do more than discover healthy habits or grow in self-fortitude. If we couple our Lenten discipline with self-examination of our own depravation, we just might discover a deeper relationship with God and a more fulfilling path to journey on in this life.

God always loves us—no matter what—and hatest nothing he has made. Linger not in depravation this Lent, lamenting that which you have given up or not given up, but turn your hearts to God. I can’t say that I will completely give up on following Princess Kate’s fashion choices, but I will spend the next six weeks not actively seeking the royal family gossip that fuels my secret fantasies of a life I will never live nor, if I am being truly honest, even desire too. And maybe, at the end of Lent, I will discover I didn’t really miss not being “in the know”; that the earth is still revolving and my life has a little more depth and a lot less shallowness about it. Then again, she is taking a work hiatus until after Easter—so it’s not like giving up following her is going to be that difficult in the days ahead. Which might just make it all the easier for me to follow God.